Disturbed and Urban Communities

In each of the communities covered, a photograph of the community is accompanied by a description of the soil conditions favored, the distribution of the community, and other points of interest. This summary is followed by two lists; the list entitled 'typical indicator species' includes plant species which tend to be dominant and typify the community. The second list, entitled 'Species to watch for' includes some of the rarer species which - in our area at least - tend to favor this community. Becoming familiar with the commoner species and their association with each other can be a good step toward finding rarer or more interesting plants.

Old Industrial Sites

Old Industrial Sites Old Industrial Sites Old Industrial Sites
Large industrial sites such as the old
Magnasite Plant at Sunset Beach, are
generally initially colonized by alien
plant species. Tougher natives such as
Northern Bayberry, Northern Prickly-
pear and Virginia Juniper are often
among the first natives to appear.
The ground may often by high in heavy
metal deposits or high salt content and
early colonizers may include such salt-
tolerant species as Foxtail Barley and
Reflexed Saltmarsh-grass.
Flowering Northern Prickly-pear gives
an unexpected touch of color to the
impoverished ground on some of the
old industrial sites.

Perhaps the finest example of how plants can be found growing pretty much anywhere, is the colonization of old industrial sites by a number of generalist plant species. Under this category come areas of open concrete or paved ground on the sites of abandoned work units. Similar plant communities are also found around the edges of parking lots, where they grade into typical communities of roads, sidewalks and similar paved areas. In contrast to paved areas, which tend to have low-growing communities of plants that eke out a living in the cracks in the paving, old industrial sites more often develop taller communities of plants, initially dominated mostly by a range of grasses, members of the aster family and, eventually woody plants.

Given the artificial nature of the environment, it is perhaps not surprising that the most adaptable of species tend to be those that colonize these areas - and most often these are strong-growing, competitive, alien species. Low-growing grasses such as Bermuda-grass and Hairy Crab-grass are eventually superceded by taller species such as Chinese Silver-grass and Ravenna-grass, while spreading stands of Common Mugwort, Tall Goldenrod and Mexican-tea are often dominant. A wide range of other herbaceous species may sometimes be found, with tall spikes of Common Mullein particularly noticeable.

Woody plants that often become dominant include Gray Poplar, Winged Sumac, Northern Bayberry and Autumn-olive and Virginia Juniper. Very dry conditions caused by soil compaction by machinery during the active phase of industrial sites means that succulent species capable of retaining water in their leaves or stems do well on such places. Thus, Northern Prickly-pear and Adam's Needle are often among the early colonizers.

Typical indicator species
  • Adam's Needle
  • Indian Wire-grass
  • Foxtail Barley
  • Bermuda-grass
  • Chinese Silver-grass
  • Mexican-tea
  • Summer-cypress
  • Northern Prickly-pear
  • Great Mullein
  • Tall Goldenrod

  • Gardens

    Gardens Gardens Gardens
    Well planned gardens, with a range of
    trees, shrubs, herbaceous borders and
    open space offer good opportunities
    for native wildlife to thrive.
    A highly manicured garden, though
    attractive in many people's eyes, can
    be completely devoid of native species
    and offers little or no opportunity for
    the development of plant communities.
    Temporary gaps in less well manicured
    lawns are colonized by an interesting
    range of short-lived annual plants that
    provide nectar for spring butterflies
    and bees.

    Areas around houses that are tended as gardens can hold a wealth of wildlife, but it depends - of course - on the property owners' interest in or available time to spend on such areas. The most basic gardens may consist of a gravel or paved area and offer little opportunity for plant communities to develop, but cultivated flowerbeds and lawns can be of interest to plant enthusiasts. Cultivated flowerbeds or vegetable patches may hold a similar range of plant species as those found in arable farm fields, but a range of alien species may also be found if they spread by seed or rhizomes from nearby plantings.

    Lawns can offer a range of plant communities, especially if the lawn is not too well tended. Some grasses that are regularly used as lawn species, such as Bermuda-grass, tend to die down during the colder months and leave bare areas in the lawn that provide open opportunity for early-germinating annuals to become established. As early as mid-March, such lawns can be a riot of color as stands of Common Field Speedwell, Red Dead-nettle and Common Chickweed carpet the ground. Careful searching can produce a range of other species, especially in the chickweed family.

    While gardens provide opportunities for wildlife to thrive, they can also be a source of new species of alien invasives. On the positive side, a number of lawns in Cape May County provide the last refuge for several colonies of the native American Field Pansy. On the down side, a number of seriously invasive species, such as Autumn Virgin's Bower, Autumn-olive, Callery Pear, Japanese Honeysuckle and Porcelainberry all started their offensive on our countryside as well-intended garden plantings. Currently, Kudsu Vine is threatening to become established from gardens, while Mulberry-weed was discovered in the county in 2015, a species that has the potential to become a new problem for our beleagured countryside.

    Typical indicator species
  • Wild Onion
  • Asiatic Spike-sedge
  • Annual Meadow-grass
  • Bermuda-grass
  • Broad-leaved Beard-grass
  • Smooth Crab-grass
  • Hairy Crab-grass
  • Field Finger-grass
  • Japanese Clover
  • Lesser Trefoil
  • White Clover
  • Spring Vetch
  • Slender Parsley-piert
  • Procumbent Yellow-sorrel
  • Dove’s-foot Crane’s-bill
  • Common Stork’s-bill
  • Hairy Bittercress
  • Sheep's Sorrel
  • Sticky Mouse-ear
  • Dwarf Mouse-ear
  • Common Chickweed
  • Annual Knawel
  • Field Madder
  • Small-flowered Forget-me-not
  • Wall Speedwell
  • Common Field Speedwell
  • Henbit Dead-nettle
  • Red Dead-nettle
  • Prickly Sow-thistle
  • Species to watch for
  • Strawberry Clover
  • Mulberry-weed
  • Common Blue Violet
  • American Field Pansy
  • Dwarf Mallow
  • Changing Forget-me-not
  • Gray Field Speedwell
  • Purpletop Vervain

  • Urban Streets & Paved Areas

    Urban Streets & Paved Areas Urban Streets & Paved Areas Urban Streets & Paved Areas
    'Hard' landscaping offers the toughest
    problem for colonizing plant species
    to overcome.
    Decumbent Pearlwort can be found
    germinating in the tiniest of cracks in
    roads and sidewalks.
    A narrow, linear community of plants
    develops in the crack between the road
    edge and kerb stones. On the barrier
    islands, Japanese Mazus is colonizing
    from nearby gardens, here among
    mixed annual grasses and trefoils.

    Perhaps the harshest environments available to colonization by plants are paved areas, especially those in towns and other built-up areas. But plants are extraordinarily adaptable and a surprising number of species are able to survive in such places. Solid pavement offers no opportunities for plants, but as soon as cracks appear, or where gaps are left between paving slabs, dust and dirt can collect and soon there will be seeds germinating. Most species that survive these growing conditions are those that form flattened rosettes or low,creeping mats of vegetation. Such plants are capable of surviving much pressure from being trodden on or even driven over by vehicles.

    While a number of prostrate species are to be expected in paved areas, a wide range of other species may occasionally be found, especially in areas where there is less pressure from being driven upon. Because these habitats occur in developed areas, seeds from nearby yards often find their way into pavement cracks, and young bedding plants such as French Marigolds, Petunias and similar species may also occasionally be found.

    Typical indicator species
  • Annual Meadow-grass
  • Tufted Love-grass
  • Indian Love-grass
  • Japanese Clover
  • Slender Parsley-piert
  • Long-bristled Smartweed
  • Procumbent Pearlwort
  • Decumbent Pearlwort
  • Jagged Chickweed
  • Greater Plantain
  • Purslane Speedwell
  • Species to watch for
  • Bearded Flat-sedge
  • Ricefield Flat-sedge
  • Japanese Mazus
  • Pineapple-weed

  • Rural Roadsides

    Rural Roadsides Rural Roadsides Rural Roadsides
    Grassy roadsides are plentiful in much
    of Cape May County, and offer a wealth
    of opportunity for those studying plant
    communities in the region.
    In areas where plant communities are
    allowed to develop fully, members of
    the aster family are often dominant,
    such as here where Common Cat's-ear
    carpets the ground.
    The importance of roadside areas for
    some native plant species should not be
    underestimated and some significant
    colonies of Pine-barren Gentian occur.
    These plants are part of a sizeable road-
    side population in the north of Cape
    May County.

    Outside of the main built environments, more rural roadsides hold a range of plant communities, their species make-up most often determined by the amount of mowing or other disturbance that the location may receive over the course of a growing season. The margins of the Garden State Parkway receive the most intensive mowing regime and consequently these areas hold species-poor communities, consisting largely of alien grasses such as meadow-grasses, rye-grasses and fescues. Main highways such as Route 47 and Route 9 hold richer plant communities, though still dominated by alien grasses, with crab-grasses and Dense Dropseed being especially prevalent, but a number of broad-leaved plant species are also present.

    On the most rural roads, especially those around Belleplain State Forest where the routes pass through wooded country, shade plays a major role in the plant community that develops, and subtly different communities can be found according to whether the roadside faces north or south, is shaded or open, in a damp hollow or on a raised, sandy bank. In many cases, these edges replicate conditions once found in woodland clearings, and a number of now scarce native species can often be found in such locations. Identifying these locations and managing them to favor these native species is currently a much-needed priority in conservation and is already being implemented in the Pine Barrens. Conversely, the presence of roadsides in once pristine native habitats allows the introduction of potentially highly-invasive and undesirable species to take place. The appearance of Japanese Stilt-grass in the County on state-managed properties at Belleplain and Cape May Point from around 2010 onward could negatively impact the region's plant communities if it goes unchecked.

    Because of the diversity of growing conditions found on roadsides, there is no single list of indicator species for these areas. Instead, the list of typical species below contain those which might normally be encountered on rural or suburban roadsides more often than in other habitat types.

    Typical species
  • Orange Day-lily
  • Great Plains Flat-sedge
  • Bulbous Meadow-grass
  • Smooth Meadow-grass
  • Flattened Meadow-grass
  • Dense Dropseed
  • Green Bristle-grass
  • Yellow Bristle-grass
  • Silky Bush-clover
  • Common Bird’s-foot-trefoil
  • Hop Trefoil
  • Lesser Trefoil
  • Equal-leaved Knotgrass
  • Greater Plantain
  • Rugel's Plantain
  • Ribwort Plantain
  • Chicory
  • Common Cat's-ear
  • Tall Mouse-ear-hawkweed
  • Yellow Fox-and-cubs
  • Plantain-leaved Pussytoes
  • Oxeye Daisy
  • Species to watch for
  • Little Barley
  • Weeping Love-grass
  • Side-oats Grama
  • Manila-grass
  • Florida Finger-grass
  • Japanese Stilt-grass
  • Hoary Tick-trefoil
  • Flowering Spurge
  • Bird’s-foot Violet
  • Tiny Bluets
  • Pine-barren Gentian

  • Cemeteries

    Cemeteries Cemeteries Cemeteries
    A human need for regimented tidiness
    often reaches its height in cemeteries,
    reducing many to areas of just one or
    two species of introduced grasses.
    Where mowing is less intense, a still
    orderly, yet more species-rich set of
    plant communities can develop. While
    still looking neat and cared for, these
    areas can be bright and cheerful in the
    spring, when they rejoice in rebirth.
    Unknown in the county before 2010,
    Tiny Bluets is a southern species that
    appears to be spreading northward and
    now occurs in short turf communities
    in cemeteries and on the edges of road-
    sides, parking lots and lawns.

    Though they can, of course, be both urban and rural, cemeteries are placed here as they are very much of human origin and, as such, do not form natural habitats or consist of natural plant communities. While cemeteries are places of great sadness ad loss, they are also places of rebirth and places where man and nature are perhaps never closer to one another. The amount of management and tidying of cemeteries has a profound effect on the plant communities that might develop, but generally these are places of short turf communities that can be similar to those that develop on unmanaged lawns. However, one main difference is that a number of plants - especially bulbous species and Moss Phlox - often spread out from their original plantings and become an integral part of the plant communities. In more rural communities, cemeteries are often shaded by nearby woodland, reducing the grass cover and producing plant communities with a greater number of plant species from the aster and chickweed families.

    A wide range of introduced species can be found in cemeteries, but these most often consist of less invasive species, and carpets of color are produced in spring by dead-nettles, mouse-ears, crane's-bills and speedwells. Some cemeteries hold large populations of Shepherd's Cress and Spring Whitlow-grass while the discovery of an increasing population of Tiny Bluets in a number of Cape May cemeteries from 2010 onward proves their value for native species too.

    Typical species
  • Heath Wood-rush
  • Spring Whitlow-grass
  • Shepherd’s Cress
  • Moss Phlox
  • Plantain-leaved Pussytoes
  • Common Cornsalad
  • Species to watch for
  • Morison's Spurrey
  • Tiny Bluets